The doors of perception

This is a post by Rang De’s team member, Hitesh Bhatt about his recent trip to Parvati Swayamrojgar

If the doors of perception are cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.- William Blake

On 6th of October, on the occasion of Baqr’Eid, the second of two religious holidays celebrated by Muslims worldwide each year, I got another opportunity to meet our Rang De borrowers and join them in celebration. Pune, a city which celebrates every festival with a zeal that I have not experienced elsewhere in the country, was the place I went to meet our impact partner (PSW- Parvati Swayamrojgar) and the borrowers. Crossing through the posh areas of Pune, I finally reached the slums of Ghorpadi.

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What a stark difference in lifestyle you can see within the same city. On one hand there are people who possibly have more than what they want and on the other there are those who have less than what they need. It reminds me of Gotham city from DC Comics Batman. Do we also need a Batman to come and fight this crime? But perhaps this is one fight Batman might just lose, because the crime is not so evident. And there is no single perpetrator of this crime. This crime is hidden within bad government policies, lack of moral responsibility and political will, indifference of the well to do and so on. In every Indian Tier 1 and 2 city, there are huge, energy guzzling shopping malls and sky high residential apartments all located alongside dingy, urban slums. It is ironic that people who have constructed buildings for the rich and given up their lands to corporations are often branded as uncivilized, untrustworthy, or lazy. Here are few more adjectives that we don’t hear used too often to describe the poor: kind, generous, hospitable. When I visited people in the slums, all of them, literally, all of them offered me vermicelli which they had prepared for Baqr’ Eid. None of them turned down my request to talk to them for a few minutes, no matter how busy they were. I met a borrower who stitches clothes for Sheikhs and his products are sold mostly in Arabian countries. I met a 65 years’ old woman, a vegetable vendor, who lives all alone and is still as spirited as child. She really inspired me and I couldn’t resist getting a photograph clicked with her. They all gave their precious business time to me without complaining, in fact with much hospitality.

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I conclude this write-up by saying that everyone I met is talented, creative, and passionate about their likes and dislikes, full of love for life in their own ways. Given platforms to showcase their talent; they have the power to surprise the whole world with their entrepreneurial skills and generosity. There is so much more to learn from the people if only we stop stereotyping and neglecting them.

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I appeal to all the readers to do their bits to make a change. No change is big or small. If it brings a smile on someone else’s face, it’s always big.

Hindustan ka dil dekho !

This is a blogpost by Hitesh Bhatt, member of Rang De’s impact team who is currently on a field trip to Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

I got another opportunity to go on a field trip to meet our impact partners and our hardworking and enterprising borrowers. And this time it is Madhya Pradesh and I am not alone. Chaitanya is with me as a great mentor and a companion. I am sitting at our partner’s office (Shakti Mahila Sangh) and we are all involved in discussions about how to create greater impact on peoples’ lives and how to measure it better. This is a short break and I decided to write about my journey so far. So here I go…

The Jabalpur airport is located about ten kilometers’ away from the city and the drive took us through the cantonment area. The drive on narrow, tree lined roads to the city was incredibly beautiful. From Jabalpur to the office of our partner SMS is another 50kms drive. And we reached a place called Sihora late in the evening.

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The next two days we rode on bumpy roads to the interiors of Katni district and several small remotely located villages where we met members of around 10 Self Help Groups. The economy is largely dependent on agriculture, thus the conversation this time centred on the monsoons and the possibility of a drought this year. We could see farmers staring at the sky for signs of rain bearing clouds. But despite their anxiety, everywhere we went we were welcomed with great hospitality and warmth. Women would put teekas on our foreheads and offer us clove and beetles.

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Now coming to what do our borrowers do for a living. Most of them are involved in cow and goat rearing. Few are involved in their traditional businesses of bidi making and making baskets out of bamboos amongst other. And not to forget, agriculture in which almost all are involved in one way or the other. Livelihood options are limited due to inaccessibility to markets and illiteracy. In fact, proper connectivity to markets can open up a lot more livelihood options to people in the villages.

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In a nutshell: a different geography and different climatic, economic conditions is an excellent platform for learning. I find myself better equipped with new learning and possibilities.  Stay tuned for more updates on impact of our intervention on the borrowers. And now I should go back to the discussion.

Notes from the Field- Orissa

Hitesh Bhatt, Rang De’s newest team member, is a part of the Impact team. He just came back from a trip to Orissa where he visited our field partners, Darbar Sahita Sansad (DSS) and Nari and Shishu Kalyan Kendra (NSKS)

Orissa, the land of temples, lakes, rivers and dense forests, is also home to fabulous people and awesome food. This was my first visit to the state and I fell hopelessly in love with it. During the course of five days in the outskirts and villages of Bhubaneshwar, Khurda Road, and Balasore, I got the opportunity to interact with local people, Rang De borrowers and the staff members of our field partners in Orissa. It is often said that people with fewer worldy things are usually generous with their possessions, time and hospitality. I can now confirm that.

In the region I visited most people belonging to the lower economic and social strata of society are dependent on agriculture and allied activities such as cow rearing. This is also true of Rang De’s borrowers. While people own land and have access to formal and informal credit to support their livelihood activities, they are forced to start from scratch due to floods every alternate year. Over time, people have learnt to deal with this natural phenomenon. Recurring floods are the major reason of large scale migration in the region.

At first glance this part of Orissa looks abundantly beautiful with rolling fields and brimming lakes, but for the people situated at the lower rungs the hardships of daily life surpass the beauty of their natural surroundings. Organizations working on providing credit, disaster management, health etc. are doing a great job in making peoples’ lives better. Rang De borrowers that I met acknowledged the impact that low interest credit had made in their lives. Still we, as a pro-people non-government organization, have a long way to go to make poverty history in Orissa.

Rang De Impact:

Jhumo Ray, a widow with four children, is a very hardworking woman. She has taken 3rd Rang De credit of Rs.15,000. She used each microloan to buy a cow and now has three cow. She sells 40 litres of milk per day at the rate of Rs 30 per liter which provides her a steady income now. From having no cows to owning three, she has come a long way and enjoys amenities such as a television at home which she bought from the profit earnings. She is also building her house using concrete. She gives credit to Rang De for such a considerable improvement in her life and wishes for a higher ticket loan as she wants to expand her activity.

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You can read a detailed account of Hitesh’s field evaluations here

Rang De Field Update- Manipur

This post is by Rang De’s Chief Financial Officer Soumya Jayaram who just came back from her first field visit to Manipur.

Manipur is blessed with natural beauty and grace much like the rest of North East India. The population is highly literate but has limited employment opportunities within the state. Interest in traditional hill farming and weaving is waning amongst the younger generation because profitability remains low. Most of the mothers (Rang De borrowers) I interacted with over the course of my three day visit had similar dreams for their children, that they study hard, become doctors, nurses, IAS officers. In the face of such challenges, the work that organizations like SEVA Manipur (Self Employed Voluntary Association) are doing to promote sustainable livelihoods and mentor weavers and rural entrepreneurs becomes doubly important.

Presented here in the slideshow are a few stories of Rang De’s borrowers that I met. I came away with feelings of camaraderie and respect for these highly capable, artistic women who continue to have big hopes for their children’s future despite their daunting circumstances.

A life changing field visit to Pusad!

- Sowmya Nandan, Rang De Chief Impact Officer
 
Rang De’s Chief Impact Officer recently returned from her first field visit to Pusad, Maharashtra and brought back with her inspiring stories of our borrowers and field partner, SAGRAS. Here’s a look at the field visit that left her short of words.
 

Every field visit has a different learning scenario and my last field visit to Pusad to meet our field partner SAGRAS (Samagra Gram Vikas Sanstha) had a lot of lessons to teach me! The lessons began even before I set foot in Pusad. The five hour road trip from Nagpur to Pusad opened my eyes to how the apartment culture is encroaching everywhere, not just the cities. Sanju, the person who driving me around informed me that the property prices in Nagpur were almost equivalent to Bangalore. One of the most talked about aspect after every SAGRAS visit is the ever popular ‘Bhakti’ hotel and its Maharashtrian food. Rang De Team members had explicitly given me instructions that I should not miss the bhindi sabji and dal. I promptly ordered it for my first meal and it continued to be my ritual for the rest of my stay.

 
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The experience to SAGRAS was an extremely humbling one. It was heartening to see how closely knit most of the SAGRAS team members were with the community. Every person in the community recognized them and warmly exchanged pleasantries. It’s a rare scenario to see that our Field Staff share such a great rapport with our borrowers. The entire field audit was carried out flawlessly. The tracker sheet I had carried had all the borrower details – however, Mahatreji and Nagaraoji had the database in their minds. As soon as we arrived the community, women flocked together and had already put a beautiful Rangoli and adorned the God with beautiful flowers and lamps. It was emotionally difficult for me to relate to the fact that most of these women who had gathered came from low income groups, yet their gesture was unconditional. They had made beautiful bouquet of flowers and got chai and snacks from one of our borrowers shops.

I would like to applaud how Bhangeji, the founder of SAGRAS has consciously given employment to 2 members who are specially-abled. The entire SAGRAS team members has been working for about 10 years and this decade of experience gives Rang De a lot of community intelligence. I believe that no management book can teach the stuff we can pick from these communities. They are not looking at taking calculated risk, but also think about the future and have alternate plans in place – their energy and soul is put towards making the IMPACT!

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